Wednesday, May 31, 2017

6 Books with Foz Meadows

Foz Meadows is an Australian fantasy author, reviewer, poet and blogger. She has previously published An Accident of Stars, an epic portal fantasy from Angry Robot, and Coral Bones, a Shakespearean novella; she has also written two YA urban fantasy novels, Solace and Grief and The Key to Starveldt. Foz is a reviewer for Strange Horizons and a contributing writer for The Huffington Post and Black Gate; her essays have appeared in various venues online, including The Mary SueA Dribble Of Ink and The Book Smugglers. In 2014 and 2017 she was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer; she has also been nominated for the Ditmar for Best Fan Writer in 2014 and 2016.

1. What book are you currently reading?

Right now, I’m reading Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer, which is absolutely amazing – great characterisation, wonderful writing and a gorgeously constructed original world.

2. What upcoming book you are really excited about?

There’s a lot of sequels I’m desperate to sink my teeth into, but I’m particularly looking forward to Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee, The Harbours of the Sun by Martha Wells, and Buried Heart by Kate Elliott.

3. Is there a book you're currently itching to re-read?

At any given moment, I exist in a state of wanting to reread Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, which is firmly on my list of all-time favourite books. Right now, though, I also want to reread Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and the Sandman series; I’ve been meaning to revisit the latter especially for years!

4. How about a book you've changed your mind about over time--either positively or negatively?

Growing up, one of my favourite and most influential authors was Sara Douglass. I reread her first two trilogies easily ten times and devoured her new releases. Now, though – and as much as I continue to owe her writing an enormous debt; hers were the first true epic fantasy novels I ever read, the ones that properly brought me into the genre – I’m retroactively horrified by the amount of rape and abuse her stories both contain and, contextually, excuse, to say nothing of the various racist stereotypes that crop up within them. Let’s just say that, if I discovered her work as the adult I am now, I’d probably have flung the first book at the wall and never picked up another one, and yet it’s a paradoxical admission, because I wouldn’t be that adult if I hadn’t read her books. Such is the weird inevitability of ageing.

5. What's one book, which you read as a child or young adult, that has had a lasting influence on your writing?

 I’m going to cheat slightly here and give two answers: Kipling’s Jungle Books – there’s two, as I delightedly discovered in my teens, and all the poems and stories therein are engraved on my heart forever – and the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, which was and is a beloved cornerstone of my fantastical development. Eulalia!

6. And speaking of that, what's *your* latest book, and why is it awesome?

My latest novel is A Tyranny of Queens, the sequel to An Accident of Stars. It’s a portal fantasy about the consequences of portal fantasies: what happens when you come home, and how do you deal with the aftermath? It contains some of the most vividly personal scenes I’ve ever written, and I’m unbelievably excited to see what people make of the finished product.

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Writer / Editor of the mostly defunct Adventures in Reading since 2004. Minnesotan.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Nanoreviews [video games]: The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile, Charlie Murder, Bayonetta, Vanquish

Ska Studios. The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile [Ska Studios, 2017]

Vampire Smile is a stylish 2D action game, following up an Xbox Live Arcade game, The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai. It's a bloody revenge tale and at least half of the details of the story are lost if you're coming into it without playing Dead Samurai, as I did. While Vampire Smile was released last month on Steam for the first time, Dead Samurai hasn't escaped the Xbox Live marketplace. Without that context, the story is nonsense, but that's okay. The action is violent and fun. Some of the early enemies feel cheap to fight, until you learn that the trick to beating almost every fight is to grab and air juggle every enemy until it dies. You're not being graded on style points. 6/10

Ska Studios. Charlie Murder [Ska Studios, 2017]

Another Ska Studios game making the hop from Xbox Live Arcade to Steam, Charlie Murder is a four player cooperative beat-em-up in the vein of classic arcade games like Streets of Rage. What gives Charlie Murder an edge over many games in this style is that there's a lot of character customization in the form of loot. Enemies drop clothing you can wear that boost your combat stats. Unfortunately, the game has to accommodate allowing any of four people to manage their inventory, compare stats on gear, equip items and skills, etc. It does this all through a smartphone interface that is entirely too small for any screen, even if you use the "zoom". It doesn't necessarily detract from the fun, but it does bust up the pace of the action. 7/10

PlatinumGames. Bayonetta [SEGA, 2017] 

Bayonetta is a ludicrous game, a character action game much like Devil May Cry or God of War, except you're an Umbran Witch. The action is fast, difficult, and violent as Bayonetta murders every heavenly creature between Inferno and Paradiso. It's a colorful and beautiful game, with tons of imaginative enemies. As far as spectacle goes, it starts with Bayonetta fighting angels on the ruins of a church tower that's floating through space. It gets even more nuts from there. The fun gets dampened sometimes by difficult fights, but it's a score based game with infinite continues and (usually) generous checkpointing. My biggest complaint is that there are no mid-chapter saves. Each chapter takes about 20 minutes at the longest, so you should be prepared to commit that time or else you're going to lose it when you quit before you reach the end of the chapter. 8/10

PlatinumGames. Vanquish [SEGA, 2017]

Vanquish is what happens when the guy who made Resident Evil 4 and Devil May Cry takes a stab at Gears of War. Like Bayonetta (another game by the same director), Vanquish takes action and spectacle to new heights. Sure, you can take cover, and stop-and-pop, and throw grenades from a safe distance. But you're Sam Gideon, and you have an experimental cyborg suit. You can do knee slides on your rocket boots. You can do evasive rolls into a bullet-time slo-mo. You can do super-powered melee attacks that will kill most enemies in one blow at the cost of a lengthy recharge time. It takes the whole Gears of War formula and turns up the speed and volume, and it's amazing. However, this PC port suffers from a serious bug in which the smoother the game runs (and it runs really smooth, at least on my PC), the more damage you'll take from enemy fire. It's something that's reportedly been fixed in a beta patch. Vanquish is a difficult game, and it's possible the developers simply overlooked this bug because they recognize that Vanquish is difficult. It pains me to say it, but maybe wait for a month before they sort this out if you're interested in experiencing Vanquish for the first time. 7/10 now, 9/10 when they get the framerate damage bug fixed.


POSTED BY: brian, sci-fi/fantasy/video game dork and contributor since 2014

Monday, May 29, 2017

Reading the Hugos: Graphic Story

We continue our Reading the Hugos series with a look at Graphic Story. I can't help but compare a bit to the five finalists from last year's ballot and only Invisible Republic would make the cut here.  I was already impressed with Monstress, Saga, and Paper Girls as each collection was on my nominating ballot. Heck, I was impressed enough by Paper Girls to include both of the published collected editions on my ballot - so I was definitely glad to see the first book make the cut. Beyond that, this list is dominated by two publishers with an even split between Marvel and Image. Granting that these are generally some excellent books and were on my ballot, I still would have liked to have seen a wider variety of publisher's on the list. I just can't say specifically what because I'm not well read enough in what's going on in comics today - which I would also guess might be the case of a lot of voters. Or maybe I'm just projecting. Either way, let's get to this year's finalists.

Black Panther, Volume 1: A Nation Under Our Feet, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze (Marvel)
Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening, written by Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda (Image)
Ms. Marvel, Volume 5: Super Famous, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa (Marvel)
Paper Girls, Volume 1, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, colored by Matthew Wilson, lettered by Jared Fletcher (Image)
Saga, Volume 6, illustrated by Fiona Staples, written by Brian K. Vaughan, lettered by Fonografiks (Image)
The Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than A Man, written by Tom King, illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta (Marvel)

The Vision: I completely get that there should be something compelling about Tom King's story of a robot family trying to live as humans AND about this same story about a superhero trying to live as normal life as possible, but somehow this didn't quite work for me. I loved the ideas of the story, but not the execution.

Monstress: I'm not sure if it is Sana Takeda's art or Marjorie Liu's story of the after effects of brutal war and even more horrific experiments, but the combination of the story marks a truly stellar book. Monstress is a beautiful, sinister, wonderul, nasty book. I wish this first book was twice as long just so that the story didn't have to end (or pause, since this is an ongoing series). Sana Takeda's art is the strongest in the category. So gorgeous and perfectly detailed.

Black Panther: I will grant that I've only been diving into the Marvel Comics Universe for the last several years with a random starting point (right around Avengers Disassembled), but I don't believe I've read a Marvel book written quite like this volume of Black Panther. This is a thoughtful, more meditative book where even the action is complemented by T'Challa considering what it means for him to return to Wakanda to reclaim the throne he gave up to his now killed sister and face the revolution his nation is in the midst of.

Ms Marvel: There is a certain amount of fame and notoriety that comes with being a superhero, and perhaps none more than if you're also a member of the Avengers. Kamala continues to balance high school with her superheroing, but the Hope Yards Development & Relocation Association are looking to gentrify Jersey City (and make buckets of money) AND they're using Ms Marvel's image to get their way - except Ms Marvel didn't sign off on it and how do you punch a corporation anyway? G. Willow Wilson has been knocking her run of Ms Marvel out of the park and Super Famous is no exception. I continually enjoy how the lower key threats in Jersey City come across as just as important as the big world breaking threats of the Avengers - which, I suppose, is because the threats Ms Marvel faces back home are big to her and to her city. They're single super hero threats rather than Avengers level threats.

Saga: I continually find myself at odds as to how to describe Saga, whether has a single collection or the series as a whole. It's a story of family told across a galaxy filled with a menagerie of increasingly bafflingly weird creatures all exhibiting their own deeply personal versions of humanity (or, of sentience, I suppose). It is, in turns: hilarious, violent, profane, lovely, and heartbreaking. Volume 6 is all of those things, and more. If not for the other book written by Brian K. Vaughan on this ballot, Saga would be my top choice. It's fantastic.

Paper Girls: On her ballot, Abigaul Nussbaum describes Paper Girls as "Stranger Things starring four Barbs, the less-popular, slightly weird girls who just happen to be the only ones left standing when reality takes a break on one ordinary fall day in 1988", which is a very apt way to describe the book that I never would have thought of but makes perfect sense. It shares the sense of nostalgia while telling a fresh story of the beginning of an alien / monster / something invasion. There's cool stuff here with great character work. I could say this of most of the books on this ballot, but I really want all of Paper Girls at one time so I don't have to stop reading. There's a reason I tried to nominate both Volume 1 here as well as Volume 2. They're really friggin great.

My Ballot
1. Paper Girls
2. Saga
3. Ms. Marvel
4. Black Panther
5. Monstress
6. The Vision

Please feel free to look at our previous coverage:

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Writer / Editor of the mostly defunct Adventures in Reading since 2004. Minnesotan.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Ghost of Movies Yet-to-Come: A Letter to 1997

Twenty years ago this week, I graduated from high school and began preparing to head off into the wilds of film school. I was in love with Alfred Hitchcock and Ingmar Bergman and Sam Raimi, and the recent huge successes of completely independent, micro-budget films like El Mariachi and Clerks made the idea of heading off to Austin and then onto exciting, indie film success seem like a genuine an 18-year-old. I had no idea that the film industry was about to start going through a massive revolution, many seeds of which were being planted right there in 1997. So I thought I'd write 1997-me a letter, giving a glimpse of what lies ahead. I'm reminded of Doc Brown's incredulity when Marty McFly tells him Ronald Reagan is president of the United States in 1985. I assume 1997-me would be equally incredulous about much of I have to tell him. Yet off I go, into the Wayback Machine...

Hey, 1997-me.

What's up? It's me. 2017-you. This is the future where I am, and I've got some future-news for you. Might help out as you get ready to embark on a journey in an industry you fundamentally do not understand at all. But that's cool — but that's cool. Even if you understood it perfectly at this very moment, some stuff's about to go down that's going to completely change all the ground rules. So I want to help out.

Here's my advice. Skip the sad indie film scripts you're about to start writing. Just forget them. Skip ahead to the time travel one. I'm not sure if you've thought of that one yet, but that one's fun. When you do think of it, call up Cameron, your friend who can draw super-good, and make it as a comic book. Don't try to shoot it. Don't drive around in the countryside and find an Old West town and drag your friends out there when it's 115 degrees and try to shoot it. Stop. Just make the comic.

Because something weird's about to happen: nerds are about to become big, big business. And comics are about to become the one medium to rule them all, the one medium to find them; the one medium to bring them all, and in the box office, bind them.

I know you're scoffing at this. I don't blame you. Because you're right, George Clooney just killed Batman. Batman and Robin will be the last of the Batman movies...for, almost, ten years. Then they're going to do this thing called "rebooting," where they're going to take a Mulligan on Keaton-Kilmer-Clooney, and start over with a British guy directing, another British guy playing Bruce Wayne, and playing Batman like Chris Barnes from Cannibal Corpse. The voice is going to be weird. You'll like it, because metal, but other people...not so much. They're going to make fun of it a lot on the internet.

Oh yeah. The internet. That's going to be...there isn't time.

Then, after those guys make three really good Batman movies, they're going to stop, and then new people are going to come in immediately after, reboot it again, and start making way more Batman movies. Seriously, right away. With the guy from Good Will Hunting. The dumb one, in that movie. I should tell you,, I can't. I don't have the heart to tell you what happens to Robin Williams.

Remember, a couple of months ago, how you were so excited because Star Wars was back in theaters, but then you left those movies all sort of confused inside? Well, I got some good news and some bad news for you, buddy. George Lucas is going to make three more, brand new Star Wars movies. And man, they're going to blow. Remember how cool "The Clone Wars" sounded when Obi-Wan talked about them? Turns out they were super goddamn lame. Until we got to see them in cartoon form, and then they were pretty cool. But then, Disney of all people, will pay George Lucas more money than God to literally never touch Star Wars ever again, and then shit's going to get real. New Star Wars ever year, from now on. We're still riding the wave, and so far it's pretty cool. We'll see what happens, though. 2037-me may have some bad news for both of us.

Right about the time you're getting out of film school, the Big Thing is going to happen. And the big thing is this: Hollywood will finally understand that Sam Raimi is the best, and they will give him money, and he will make Spider-Man. It will break all the records. It will be badass. They will let him make Spider-Man 2 and it will be equally badass. Spider-Man 3 will really, really suck, and they'll reboot it. And that'll suck, and they'll reboot it again. We're waiting to see how that goes.

Here's why this is important: When 1997 comes to a close, and your mom is doing all your laundry over Christmas break, 16 movies will have made $100 million or more at the domestic box office. That's a lot, right? Total domestic box office of over $6 billion — Billion! 2016 just ended over here and it was...come on present-me, stick to movies, stick to I've got the numbers right here, and 30 movies crossed $100 million domestically. Total domestic box office? Over $11 billion. Six of those movies will be comic book movies, and most of the rest are cartoons.

Those David Mamet movies you like so much? The ones where people talk and stuff? What I want you to do is not watch those anymore. Just go read comics. Then make comics. Then, maybe learn to draw and start animating your comics. I'm telling you.

Oh...last thing. Don't worry about it. You will, I promise, eventually have sex. I promise.

Signing off, 
Vance K — cult film reviewer and co-editor of nerds of a feather, flock together since 2012 (it's an internet thing, just trust me), Emmy-winning producer (I know, it surprised me, too), and folk musician (really...but I still play drums, too, so don't freak out too much).

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Thursday Morning Superhero

Despite being over 50 days away, I am having a hard time avoiding the San Diego Comic Con hype and am starting to get antsy for my annual trek to the west coast. While I am bummed to learn that there will be no Nerd HQ this year and Nerdist appears to be scaling things back, you had the feeling in the past few years that at some point the off-site bubble would burst just a little and things would settle down a bit.  If these announcements are a sign of this, I welcome it and hope those nerds making the trip without SDCC badges still have a good time.

Pick of the Week:
Redneck #2 - It might be due to the fact that I am a Texan, it might be due to the fact that I really enjoy stories set in the south, or it might be that this is a great twist on a standard vampire book that is a great read, but Donny Cates has a hit on his hands and I highly recommend picking up the first two issues and catching up.  The Bowman's (the vampires) and the Landry's (a religious family led by Father Landry) have had their issues, but it reached a boiling point in the first issue when Slap, one of the Bowman boys, was found hanging from a tree following a night of debauchery from some of the Bowman family.  This has only escalated tensions, and has spilled over to the local barbecue joint where some of the familiars (those who are on good terms with the vampires) worked.  All hell breaks lose in the second issue and we start to learn a bit more about some of the characters who appear to have a much bigger part to play beyond the family feud.  I am thinking Slap was caught up in some shady happenings that we will learn about as this series continues.  If you are looking for a new series to hop on board before it is "cool" then I highly suggest checking Redneck out. Be warned it is not for the faint of heart.

The Rest:
Dept. H #14 - Matt and Sharlene Kindt's underwater mystery continues this week as the remaining survivors of the crew attempt to surface despite the contagion they have been exposed to.  We learn more about Jerome in this issue and what motivated him to partake in this underwater research.  His advanced knowledge of viruses and cures led him to be recruited by various international powers.  Apparently there was an effort made by the global powers to produce exclusive contagions to supposedly use as weapons.  I doubt that Mia's father was wrapped up in this type of conspiracy, but if this is the case, then it isn't surprising that it led to his murder.  I am finally starting to put some pieces together, but am far behind the curve and doubt I will solve this one on my own.

X-Men Blue #4 - We have contact from another dimension and a Wolverine in the house!  Things get quite exciting in this issue, as the X-Men track down Wolverine's son after hearing reports of him killing people in the mountains in Colorado.  Something isn't quite right with Jimmy (Wolverine's son) so the X-Men try to talk some sense into him and figure out what is going on.  Their displacement in time is only creating new questions as they figure out their role and why they were brought here.  While I don't know a lot about the reveal at the end of this issue, I am excited to see where a new arc will take us.

Guardians of the Galaxy #2 - Gerry Duggan is a great fit with this series and I have really enjoyed these first few issues.  While not an avid Guardians comic book reader, I do enjoy the characters and Duggan's sense of humor (which included Deadpool killing a bunch of presidents) is making me enjoy them even more.  The Guardians are attempting to steal a rare egg from The Collector in order to pay a debt.  Stealing from The Collector is no easy feat, especially when for some odd reason Drax is no longer destroying anything.   Mix in a planet that has loads of other Groot-like characters and you have some intrigue to really keep you interested in this team and their exploits.  Definitely recommend this series to anyone who enjoyed the movies.

POSTED BY MIKE N. aka Victor Domashev -- comic guy, proudly raising nerdy kids, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Tabletop Pile of Shame: New Year's Resolution Update

Welcome to the second entry in my attempt to play through my pile of shame.  I was successful in crossing two games off my list earlier this year, and am doing my best to keep my momentum moving forward.   For those who don't know what this is, I am happy to explain.  A lot of people in the board game hobby tend to purchase games at a quicker rate then they play them.  I often fall victim to this trap as I am prone to purchase games and then struggle to get my group together to play.  One problem with a pile of shame is that as soon as you take a game off of the pile, another one or two find their way to the bottom.

One of the New Year's Resolutions I set for myself in 2017 was to play 10 games from my pile of shame and I am happy to report that I have crossed four off of my list now.   Over the past two weeks I was successful crossing Carrotia from MAGE and Codenames from Czech Games Edition off of my list!

Carrotia by MAGE Company - As someone who enjoys playing games with my kids, I am always looking out for new family games.  I am happy to report that Carrotia provided a unique and challenging game cooperative opportunity for my family.  In Carrotia, you are laying tiles to build a labyrinth for a bunny to traverse, collecting as many carrots as possible and escaping in a set number of moves.  Each round requires you building a bigger maze and adds additional depth and effectively introduces new players to the mechanics.  The components on this game are incredibly beautiful and do a great job immersing you in what feels like a fairy tale.  While this isn't a game I would break out with my adult friends, I think it makes a great addition to anyone looking for a fun cooperative experience to play with the kids.  The tile laying sequence is fast and tense, followed up by the fun of moving the bunny through the paths you just created.

Codenames by Czech Games Edition - I am extremely late to the table on this title and had it in my collection for over 2 years without ever playing it.  I am ashamed of that behavior, but happy to report that it completely lives up to the hype and is an amazing party game that should be included in every game library.  There are multiple editions, so I would suggest picking which one sounds like the most fun for your group.  I have heard good things about the picture edition.  Codenames is a simple clue driven guessing game, that supports up to 8 players and keeps everyone engaged throughout.  This game is simple, easy to teach, and a whole lot of fun.  After playing it multiple times it has quickly raced to the top of my party game list.  Definitely a must own title.

POSTED BY MIKE N. aka Victor Domashev -- comic guy, proudly raising nerdy kids, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

WE RANK 'EM: Ranking Nolan

Who comes to mind when I ask you who the most controversial director working today is? Definitely Christopher Nolan, right? Oh, it's not? Well, to be honest, we didn't think so, either, until the Flock over here basically went all Civil War (I was Cap; Vance was Ant-Man) over his filmography. So we decided to make an accord over the whole business and just rank all his movies. Here they are, ranked from lowest scoring to highest:

(2002) Insomnia 4.4

I've never been a fan of Al Pacino, so I derived some schadenfreude out of seeing him thrash around, sleepless. I, however, wanted nothing more than to fall asleep and forget I ever saw this boring clod of night-soil. -Sean

Terrible remake of an excellent film. -Chloe

Not only does his star Al Pacino, i.e. the most overrated actor of a generation, but it's a crap remake of an excellent Swedish/Norwegian film. Like most remakes, this one should never have been made.  -The G

(2014) Interstellar 

Score: 4.8

I thought this movie was delightful. My quibble with the movie is the quasi supernatural stuff with Cooper and Murphy and how that resolves in the black hole / tesseract / whatever the hell that mess was. I disliked that resolution, but everything else? Wonderful. -Joe

Despite an almost visceral dislike of Matthew McConaughey's smug face, and extreme disappointment with the Soylent Green-like revelation that it's just super-evolved humans, not gods or aliens or anything, who reach through time and tesseracts to save a smirking idiot like him, the world-building is lush, and despite its way-too-long running time, the story is thrumming with tension (thanks, I think, to the excellent use of sound throughout).  -Sean

You want to talk overrated? I'll tell you what's overrated: this steaming pile of hot garbage. I saw it at the Hollywood Cineramadome on opening night, where the crowd tends to be a bit drunk and a bit rowdy. Needless to say, the cringeworthy dialogue elicited laughter on more than one occasion. That said, there might be a good 90 minute movie in this bloated, 169 minute monstrosity. Just terrible.  -The G

One of the five worst movies I have ever seen. I would give it a negative rating if I could. Boring, pretentious, and comically inept. Any smart science is lost in how stupid this movie is. -Dean

(2012) The Dark Knight Rises 

Score: 6.2

It had all the problems of Dark Knight (the all-or-nothing morality, etc.) and more: a totally gratuitous femme fatale in the underutilized Marion Cotillard, the 'reveal' of her true colors about as exciting as a mid-career M. Night Shymalan twist. Unfortunately, it also had little of interest; I was cheering for Bane. -Sean

I'm not really sure what the complaints are all about. -Joe (I'll fill you in- Dean)

(2005) Batman Begins 

Score: 6.5

I hate prolonged origin stories and that's what this film is all about. Plus the growl voice is super lame. -The G

I really enjoyed this when it came out. It was the first time I saw anybody own onscreen how psychologically screwed up Bruce Wayne is, and I dug that. -Vance

It's Batman. Origin stories are so unnecessary at this point. -Joe

(1998) Following 

Score: 6.8

I walked away from this movie thinking, "Yeah, that was good," not thinking, "Yeah, that was pretty good for spending no money except on film stock," and that's a true testament to what this film gets right. I could write an essay about how hard it is to accomplish something like this in the way Nolan & crew accomplished it, but I'll just say it's a hell of a first at-bat. -Vance

An extraordinary first effort, cinematographic gold despite the tiny budget, this put the world on notice to expect great things from Nolan. -Sean

(2010) Inception 

Score: 7.2

An OK film that I think gets remembered more for the ending than the actual movie. Great visuals and performances (bonus for basically making the US aware of Tom Hardy) -Dean

It doesn't really make sense, but it's beautiful and strange, and really, what more do we want in a good film than that? -Sean

For years, I had an ongoing Surrealist art project with a friend, so I'm a sucker for dream stuff. This was a big-budget movie that -- while not deep -- was at least thoughtful, and not based on a franchise. It's the kind of movie I wish there were many more of. -Vance

(2006) The Prestige 

Score: 7.5

Awful adaptation of a great book, knows nothing about stage magic, empty af (But David Bowie) -Chloe

One of my all-time favorite movies. Great writing, direction and performances throughout. -Dean

(2008) The Dark Knight 

Score: 7.6

An excellent superhero film, and it has a really badass score too. A bit empty, but remember--this is a superhero film. They are all empty. I loved both villains. -The G

This is about as good as a superhero movie can be, really. Of course the morality is laughably black and white, but it's got twists, it's got turns; you'll laugh, you'll cry--it was better than Cats! -Sean

I know I'm in the minority. Yes, Heath Ledger is great, but the repeated "Save one or the other" plot device bored me, and I have a kid who was the same age as Gordon's, so watching Dent hold a gun to his head for 19 hours (felt like it) was unbearable. A profoundly negative theatrical experience for me. -Vance

I love this movie- academically. It does so many thing right, and well, and Ledger is amazing. Then I re-watched it the other day, and does anyone else remember that this movie is eight hours long? No matter how good your movie is, if the audience is checking their watch with 45 minutes to go, it's too long and too overstuffed. And that is with a lot of very tight editing. -Dean

(2000) Memento 

Score: 8.4

Great idea, interesting filmwork and editing, GUY PIERCE -Chloe

A film so good it was unsettling, thanks to Nolan's technical skill: imagine this story in the hands of a more established (at that time) director! -Sean

Enjoyed this one when it came out; saw it again a few years ago and felt it mostly held up. -The G  

Those are our thoughts on Christopher Nolan's films- what are yours? Chime in!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Reading the Hugos: Novella

Welcome to the first entry in Reading the Hugos: 2017 Edition. If you remember my nomination ballot, you'll note that only one of the novellas on my ballot made the final ballot. That's okay. It would be somewhat boring if everyone agreed with me. Obviously, I thought Every Heart a Doorway was fantastic, but if I had the power to add one more story as a Finalist, I would add Matt Wallace's fantastic Lustlocked. If I could add two, I would also add Emily Foster's The Drowning Eyes (my review). Not enough people have been talking about that one. But, since people tend to not fully agree with my taste in fiction, let's take a look at what is actually on the ballot.

This would also be a good time to note that this category is very heavy with Publishing, taking four out of the six slots. That's a lot for one publisher, but there are a couple of things working in's favor. They publish a LOT of novellas each year, mostly of high quality, and they are both affordable and widely available. Most of the novellas I read from 2016 were from Publishing. But, perhaps next year there will be a wider variety of publishers represented.

The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle ( publishing)
The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson ( publishing)
Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire ( publishing)
Penric and the Shaman, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Spectrum Literary Agency)
A Taste of Honey, by Kai Ashante Wilson ( publishing)
This Census-Taker, by China Miéville (Del Rey / Picador)

This Census-Taker:  If I went with my initial inclination, This Census-Taker would have been listed below No Award. I first attempted to read this shortly after it was published and only managed perhaps twenty or thirty pages before I set it aside, knowing that it was not for me. It was too nebulous, too vague for me to actually enjoy. I need a bit more of a clear story and understanding of what the heck is actually going on. This Census-Taker gave me none of that. After making the final Hugo ballot I gave it another shot and, this time, I was able to make it through the novella and get more of a sense as to the story Mieville was telling. Unfortunately, it's still not for me. It'll sit above No Award, but not by a lot.

The Ballad of Black Tom: This is a dark, dark story filled with increasing horror. This is heavily inspired by Lovecraft's "The Horror at Red Hook", which I would not have known if it wasn't talked about so often when discussing LaValle's novella. I don't know how familiarity with the original story impacts the reading of The Ballad of Black Tom, but I can tell you how that the story works independent of Lovecraft. To quote Chloe's review: LaValle’s writing is compelling, compulsively readable [...], and beautifully constructed. One of the most brilliant qualities of the writing here is the evocation of place, so smoothly and beautifully done throughout the book"

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe: The second of two novellas on the ballot inspired by and riffing off H.P. Lovecraft. This one is, I believe, inspired by "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath". Given that I've never knowingly read anything written by Lovecraft, whatever Kij Johnson did to put her own spin on the story is beyond me. Ultimately, it doesn't matter because The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe stands so very well on its own. This is just flat out a good story. It's an older woman, a professor at a strange university, going on a quest to find a student who ran away with a dreamer from another world (our world?) and put the school at risk.

A Taste of Honey: I wasn't one of the advocates for Kai Ashante Wilson's previous novella Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, though I appreciated the craft of the telling. A Taste of Honey was something different, a tighter and more personal story of love, loss, and choices made. Put that way, it doesn't sound remarkable, but the proof (as always) is in the telling. A Taste of Honey is wrenching and beautiful.

Penric and the Shaman:  Lois McMaster Bujold needs no introduction or explanation of just how fantastic a writer she is, but so often when I read one of her stories I am reminded anew just how good she really is. The storytelling is so smooth and compelling that I wanted another hundred pages from Penric and the Shaman (the second volume in the Penric and Desdemona series). Set four years after the previous novella, Penric has grown into a more confident and competent character and is more at ease with having a demon in his mind. In a different year, this might be my number one pick.

Every Heart a Doorway: Receiving a very rare 10/10 here on Nerds of a Feather (my review), Every Heart a Doorway remains a clear standout novella. To quote myself: "Every Heart a Doorway is a beautiful and heart wrenching story of kids who don't belong anywhere except perhaps the one place they can't get back to. By no means have I read everything Seanan McGuire has written, but this has to be her best work. It is damn near perfect in all of the ways that matter to me and to my heart."

My Vote:
1. Every Heart a Doorway
2. Penric and the Shaman
3. A Taste of Honey
4. The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe
5. The Ballad of Black Tom
6. This Census-Taker

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Writer / Editor of the mostly defunct Adventures in Reading. Minnesotan.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Microreview [book]: Crossroads of Canopy, by Thoraiya Dyer

If you haven’t read this yet, why on earth not? And if you have yet somehow didn’t like it, seriously: why on earth not?

Crossroads of Canopy: Book One in the Titan's Forest Trilogy by [Dyer, Thoraiya]
Dyer, Thoraiya. Crossroads of Canopy. Macmillan, 2017.

You can buy it here, and by the time you’re done reading this review, you’ll want to!

Despite being the target of polarizing reviews (some of which, I am convinced, are consciously or unconsciously motivated by dislike for precisely what makes it unique, namely the unconventional heroine), this story is awesome. Its awesomeness stems partly from its world-building (the unique forest world, consisting of the mysterious Floor, the savage Understory, and the elitist Canopy, with the people and creatures from each a strange and fascinating mix of familiar and alien traits) and partly, perhaps mostly, from its main character. Here’s why heroine Unar is the best female protagonist—and indeed, one of the best protagonists of any biological sex or gender—in years.

Her masculine-without-being-stereotypically-tomboyish femininity:

Unlike the squeaky clean, often virginal heroines of recent popular fantasy and sci fi literature (I’m looking at you, Bella Swan!), Unar has desires…and acts on them. In fact, her coming of age reminded me quite strongly of Tenar’s awakening in Ursula Le Guin’s immortal The Tombs of Atuan. I wonder if Unar’s name might have been inspired by that rather similar story of social and sexual repression, out of which, like two glorious butterflies, these two heroines irrepressibly burst? Unar is not a model of demure femininity; instead, she’s an interesting mix of feminine and (what we might identify as) prototypically masculine traits, especially her tremendous ambition and her hunger for power, qualities that stay-in-the-kitchen traditionalists would doubtless call ‘unfeminine’. Given men’s dismal track record of monopolizing power, controlling female sexuality and indulging their ambitions throughout history (both in the world of Canopy and our own), ‘unfeminine’ girl power doesn’t sound so bad to me.

Thanks for taking a giant dump on the Earthsea cycle, creators of this crappy 2004 miniseries!

Her moral ambiguity:

Generally, heroines are presented as always doing the right thing, so even when, e.g., Katniss Everdeen shoots a certain character in the Hunger Games trilogy, the reader certainly is not meant to question Katniss’s essential goodness. That is, female anti-heroes, true anti-hero(ine) protagonists (not just pure-hearted women forced by cruel circumstances to do bad things, or black-hearted ‘fallen woman’ villains) are very rare, as though even most authors can scarcely conceive of a woman anywhere in the ethical spectrum between the polar extremes of pure goodness and total evil. Unar, however, is decidedly a mixed bag, ethically, and as the reader continues to cheer her on, we too become complicit in some of her darker deeds. I’m not talking about when she’s being mind-controlled, her magic used against her will to harm others; that’s just standard victim stuff. I’m talking about when she does have control: often she acts bravely, and sometimes altruistically, but also occasionally acts out of pure selfishness. Gosh, this mass of contradictions almost sounds like a real person—a lot more than most fairytale heroines, to be sure!

Her overall awesomeness:

Unar is betrayed many times, in many forms, by family, friends and allies, but she is like a juggernaut—nothing can keep her down. She’s also almost unique, given her privileged position, in being quick to recognize the worth of people in a lower social class than her; she both uses their talents for her own ends and, sometimes, uses her own vast powers to help them. She is essentially the only person in her highly and literally stratified world that is able to travel between these distinct layers, combining the best parts of both Canopy and Understory. I can hardly wait until we get a sequel and she begins exploring the still dark and mysterious world of Floor!

The fact that there’s no ‘happily ever after’ in sight:

Usually, books about girls (or boys, for that matter) bring everything to a cathartic and suitably romantic conclusion; the heroine finds and wins the man of her dreams, etc., etc. But Unar has no such too-pat ending waiting for her. Even if no sequel is ever written (though that would be a terrible shame!), Unar’s story is complete in its incompleteness. The worth of a young woman, the sum total of her life, cannot be expressed in hetero(or homo)sexual union—nor is her value necessarily tied to her youth. This story emphasizes that, by focusing more on the life-cycle of the oppressed women of this fictional world, introducing not only Maidens, but also Mothers and Crones, and insisting we the readers take notice of their valuable contributions. Fittingly, at the end Unar finds herself decisively deprived—by her own actions—of the chance to settle down and enjoy a quiet, happy life, and given her morally questionable deeds, her inability to resume her old life, while in a sense a cruel fate, is not a surprising one. It’s only surprising if we the readers have been fed a diet of happily ever afters. I for one am looking forward to future stories about Unar’s fascinating exploits, as something tells me her story is far from over.

 The Math:

Objective Assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for making such a morally complex, endlessly fascinating heroine as Unar
                +1 for quite creative bout of world-building

Penalties: None!

Nerd coefficient: 8/10 “Totally sweet!”

See more about our scoring system (under which 8/10 is quite rare!) here.

This message brought to you by Zhaoyun, aficionado of fictional worlds and devotee of earth-shattering heroines like Unar, and reviewer for Nerds of a Feather since ancient times (2013).

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Thursday Morning Superhero

Even though we are only in the middle of May my San Diego Comic Con plans are starting to take shape.  I am going to continue my annual tradition of enjoying some beer at Hop Con on preview night and will be attending my fourth Funko Fundays as well!  The only big piece I need to bring everything full circle is tickets to a taping of Conan.  If you are attending SDCC I hope to see you there!

Pick of the Week:
Secret Empire #2 - Hydra has successfully seized control of the United States of America thanks to manipulating Captain America into thinking he is a sleeper Hydra agent with the help of a cosmic cube.  The superheroes that are fighting back are either trapped in outer space beyond a defense shield or in New York city thanks to a giant bubble.  The superheroes that are trapped in New York City are divided.  Half want to kill Captain America after he destroyed Las Vegas and the other half, based on some intel provided by Rick Jones, is determined to track down the cosmic cube fragments and attempt to write reality back to where things were.  Throw in the twist that Nick Spencer drops at the end of this issue and you have a must read summer event.  Really impressed with Secret Empire thus far.

The Rest:
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #20 - I love how absurd and entertaining this title is and the break it provides from more serious titles.  Currently Melissa Morbeck is rallying her animal army in an attempt to take over the world.  In order to accomplish this and protect her identity, she is using a bear to cosplay as Doctor Doom and hoping to pin the animal rebellion on Squirrel Girl.  Any comic with cosplaying bears is ok in my book.  If the humor in books like this isn't just right then it falls flat.  Fortunately, between Ryan North's writing and Erica Henderson's art, a happy medium of humor and fun is achieved and readers are treated to a fun break from more serious titles or the chaos that we exist in on a daily basis.

Daredevil #20 - We finally learn how the Blue Children (Kilgrave's children) restored the secret identity of Daredevil, but we also learn what this cost Matt Murdock from an emotional standpoint.  Having the genie back in the bottle was and is great for Daredevil, but in many ways it impacted the relationships and bonds that Matt was able to form.  I really enjoyed this arc and am happy that Daredevil's secret identity is under wraps.  The ability of authors to re-write characters that have been part of us for so many years never ceases to amaze me.

Royal City #3 - The drama escalates in Jeff Lemire's latest entry into the story of a dysfunctional family that is dealing with a lot of issues.  Each issue is an emotional journey as you get to know each member of the Pike family and the impact of their father's stroke, a factory that might be closing, and the haunting memories of their youngest brother who drowned many years ago.  This series is quite heavy, but Lemire really shines at connecting the reader with the characters in his book to the point where you really have a vested interest in what happens in the book.  So far this series has brought me back his earlier work Essex County, which almost made it on one of my course syllabus as required reading!

Batman #23 - Batman teams up with Swamp Thing in an attempt to solve the murder of Swamp Thing's father.  Written in a burst of short chapters, this one shot is a fun journey through some basic detective work.  I was skeptical about reading more with Swamp Thing after the disappointing R.L. Stine series, but this was a fun issue that felt a bit like a short true crime show on A&E.  Nothing terribly special, but definitely interesting and something that kept my attention from start to finish.

Birthright #24 - I will be honest and say that I am a bit lost in this series and feel that a summary to open each issue would help a lot.  Having said that, it feels like we are racing towards an epic finale that may have some huge consequences for Mikey and the decisions he made.  Mikey's family from Earth is finally reunited as he wages his wars on the mages for leaving Terranos at the hands of Lore.  Toss in the return of a villain we haven't seen for a while and I need to go back and re-read this series.  Fortunately I have really enjoyed this one and look forward to the refresher.

POSTED BY MIKE N. aka Victor Domashev -- comic guy, proudly raising nerdy kids, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

2017 Hugo Award Voter's Packet

The Voter's Packet for the Hugo Awards has been released and made available to all members of WorldCon 75 and Nerds of a Feather has put together a compilation of what we feel represents the best and the breadth of our collective work published in 2016. While the purpose of the Voter's Packet is to help eligible voters make an informed decision when casting their ballots, we wanted to also make this available to all of our readers who may want to take a look back at what we did last year. As such, below is The G's introduction to the Voter's Packet followed by the Table of Contents with links to each of the essays, reviews, and features we included in the packet. 

If you'd like, you can also download the files we included in the Voter's Packet and take Nerds of a Feather on the go.

We hope you enjoy!


The G

In 2012, Vance Kotrla and I decided to start an all-purpose nerd blog. The concept was simple: write about what we like and what we don’t, and keep the subject matter diverse enough that we would never get bored. We were entering a rich and vibrant ecosystem, where both traditional fanzines and their online descendants played an important role by linking fans to authors and publishers, while providing reliable sources of news and opinion on topics that the mainstream media (still) rarely touch upon. This was fandom’s fourth estate, if you will — and it was awesome. I remember reading sites like A Dribble of Ink, The Book Smugglers, and SF Signal and thinking, “Can we do that too?”

The site’s guiding principles were to avoid “grade inflation” to the best of our ability, and to cover as many pockets of fandom as possible. This first principle is reflected almost daily in our review scoring system, which is designed to distribute normally around a theoretical mean score of 5, so that a 7 is pretty darn good and 10s are reserved for works of transcendent quality. In five years, we’ve given out less than a dozen 10s.

To put it another way, in a world where every new Christopher Nolan movie immediately lands in the IMDB Top 250, we wanted to be a place where fans could expect a little less hyperbole, especially when discussing new works.

The second principle, to cover as much of fandom as possible, found expression in our growing team of contributors. Vance and I each had areas we specialized in (SF/F novels and cult cinema, respectively), but we recognized there was no way we two alone could do justice to the tremendous work and innovation taking place in short fiction, comics, video and tabletop games, television, and so forth. So it is a tremendous point of pride that as our readership has expanded, so have our voices.

The many recurring series featured on our site have become one of our signatures, I think. Thursday Morning Superhero, which runs weekly, takes a look at the new comics that arrive in shops every Wednesday. Beyond that, we have: the We Rank ‘Em and 6 Books listicle series; New Books Spotlight, which highlights upcoming books we’re excited about; The Monthly Round, which pairs the month’s best new short fiction with adult beverages; Essentials, which aims to serve as an introduction for those readers who may be new to a particular area of fandom; annual Summer Reading and Holiday Gift Guide series; and two forms of roundtable discussion (Blogtable and Perspectives).

We also run special post series, such as 2015’s Cyberpunk Revisited, and the currently ongoing series Dystopian Visions. One of my personal favorite moments from the past five years came when Rudy Rucker, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, and Paul DiFilippo all agreed to participate in an open conversation on cyberpunk and its enduring legacy.

Five years on, and we have been nominated for a Hugo — the ultimate sign of having “arrived.” Only, the ecosystem does not feel as vibrant as it once did. Some of the best sites have closed shop – including both A Dribble of Ink and SF Signal. Meanwhile, the landscape has been affected by institutional- level changes, with conversations about blog posts largely migrating to Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and so forth.

None of this is bad, per se — just different. And in a few cases, we’ve been able to provide an online home to talented writers moving on from these, or from other sites. All the same, fandom still needs its fanzines. So while we are excited to be nominated for a Hugo, we are even more excited to keep fighting the good fight alongside our fellow nominees and all the other great fan blogs out there.

In the end, we are just a group of opinionated people writing about what unites us in giddy nerd joy or reduces us to puddles of apocalyptic nerd rage. Most importantly, we do it out of love.

What follows is a small sampling of what we’ve done over the past year. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed contributing to its production.

Table of Contents

1. Stranger Things: A New Dramatic Animal?
2. The Obelisk Gate
3. Tower of Swallows
4. The Last Days of New Paris
5. My Favorite Stories Don't Get Nominated: A Hugo Love Story
6. Mystic Vale
7. Arrival
8. About That New Star Wars Movie... 
9. Snyderisms
10. Stranger Than Fiction: Merchants of Doubt
11. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
12. Thursday Morning Superhero
13. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
14. The Bone Clocks
15. WisCon My Home Con
16. We Rank 'Em: The Star Trek TV Series
17. Nerd Music: Interview with Makeup & Vanity Set's Matthew Pusti
18. Holiday Gift Guide: Gadgets, Electronics, & Apps
19. Turbo Kid
20. 6 Books With Kate Elliott
21. Essentials: 24 Cult Films For Late, Late Nights